The Power of Breath: How Controlled Breathing Techniques Can Improve Overall HealthNov 23, 2020 05:00AM ● By KLAUDIA BALOGH
The world knows him as the Iceman who has pushed his body’s limits far past what had been thought to be humanly possible. This Dutchman’s accomplishments and discoveries are making scientists question their understanding of how the human body works.
Meet Wim Hof, the man who has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in freezing temperatures wearing only a pair of shorts; run a half marathon above the Arctic Circle barefoot; stood in a container while covered with ice for more than 112 minutes; and had himself and a few of his students injected with an infectious bacteria to show how the power of breathwork could control the body’s immune response, causing fewer, if any, symptoms and speeding up recovery.
Hof’s achievements are leading to new discoveries showing that the autonomic nervous system and innate immune response can be influenced by human will—something that was previously unseen in science.
“Brain scans have shown that where normally we have control of 16 percent of our brain, through the breathing exercises, you make the neural activity in the brain go up to 100 percent,” Hof, 61, told TOTI Media. “This was thought to be impossible.”
Hof says, “Breath is the carrier of life force.”
While this is an undeniable truth, so many of us go about life without giving a second thought to inhaling and exhaling. It happens with or without our conscious effort, so why would we even bother manipulating it? There are so many things in life we’re juggling to control, why would anyone want to add breathing to that list? But what if you were told that controlling your life becomes a lot easier if you begin to control your breath?
“At will, we’re able to change the biochemistry in the brain and the body, and allow the body to repair both physical and emotional trauma,” Hof says.
The foundation of breathing is the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, which is a biochemical process that affects the entire physiology from basic bodily functions to complex endocrine and neurological processes. You most often realize this when your actions and thoughts cause your breathing patterns to change: to speed up or become deregulated. During intensive exercise, heightened excitement or even during an anxiety or panic attack, you start to inhale faster, your heart rate increases, and hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol shoot through the roof. It’s a natural response to stress, either physical or mental. The problem, however, is when such deregulated breathing patterns occur too often and linger for extended periods of time. It can lead to a chronically elevated resting heart rate, high blood pressure, autoimmune problems, thyroid problems, chronic stress, high acidity, inflammation and sleep disruptions.
The advice, “Just take a deep breath,” may sound familiar during times of stress, and it’s not without merit.
Deep breathing, meaning full inhales and full exhales, signals the body that everything is under control. The heart rate slows down, and the body begins to balance hormones, as well as pH levels. It allows you to take back the wheel of our mind and hence your body. Breathwork, in the sense of controlled hyperventilation, takes it a step further.
Studies have shown that controlled breathing helps lower cortisol levels and could even reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.
In addition to that, scientific research has found that controlled, faster breaths can make the body’s pH more alkaline. In shallow breathers who don’t exhale fully, CO2 can build up, causing an acidic environment. Therefore, getting rid of CO2 will increase alkalinity to balance pH levels.
Lowering inflammation is another benefit of controlled breathing. According to a study conducted by the Yale School of Medicine in 2014, a hyperventilation-based breathwork routine caused the immune system to increase anti-inflammatory activity. These results point to the possibility that such breathwork practices can upregulate the body’s ability to fight infections, viruses or bacteria by boosting the immune system and aiding innate intelligence.
“Now we found a direct and very effective way to tap into our deep nervous system,” Hof says, adding that he’s dealt with a lot of skeptics over the past few decades. With the opportunity to prove scientifically the efficacy of his Wim Hof Method, he’s now on a mission to guide people to becoming happy, strong and healthy. “Just try it once and feel the difference,” the Iceman says.
To learn more and try the Wim Hof Method, visit wimhofmethod.com.
Klaudia Balogh is a health and fitness writer for TOTI Media.